Panthers coach says growth and personality key team's climb

Tue Dec 1, 2015 7:48pm EST
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(Reuters) - The Carolina Panthers, who had a losing record last season, are the NFL's last unbeaten team and their coach credits that turnaround to the growth of young players like Cam Newton and Josh Norman and their exuberance.

Carolina made the playoffs at 7-8-1 last season but enter Sunday's game at New Orleans with an 11-0 record and an improved offense led by strong-armed, hard-running Newton complementing the team's ferocious defense.

"It's been interesting to watch him grow," Ron Rivera, speaking on ESPN Radio, said about Newton, the number one pick of the 2011 NFL Draft. "His overall game has truly improved, everything from his mechanics to his mental approach to the game."

Newton's development has helped Carolina jump to third in scoring average this season with 30.2 points per game compared to last year when they were 19th at 21.2 points per game.

Rivera credited offensive coordinator Mike Shula.

"What Mike's done is put the decision making process on Cam," he said. "He gives him a whole array of plays that once he gets to the line of scrimmage he can pull from."

Newton, at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, is also an imposing runner and the Panthers lean heavily on the ground game, rating fourth in the NFL in rushing yards for a ball-control attack that fits with their second-ranked defense.

Helping that defense is Josh Norman, a fifth-round pick in 2012 who has blossomed into one of the NFL's top cornerbacks.

Rivera said he had to learn how to handle Norman.   Continued...

Nov 22, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera looks on during the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins at Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers won 44-16. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports